Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

You may have seen headlines in April 2023 about Johnson & Johnson paying nearly $9 billion to tens of thousands of people who claim talcum powder caused their cancer, including ovarian cancer. Controversy around the connection between talcum powder and cancer has gone on for years and has generated thousands of lawsuits.

What is talcum powder?

Talcum powder is a substance found in many consumer products, including cosmetic items like baby powder and adult body and facial powders. Because of its ability to absorb moisture and reduce friction, talcum powder is often used in products to prevent chafing, or to create smooth texture.

What is talcum powder made of?

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral composition primarily comprising magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. This mineral is extracted from the earth through mining processes. In its natural state, talc deposits may contain asbestos, which is a substance recognized for its association with lung cancers when inhaled.

Does talcum powder cause cancer?

Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance provides information based on medical research and best practices. Research regarding a connection between the use of talcum powder and increased ovarian cancer risk is inconclusive. The verdict of recent trials regarding talcum powder will not change the information that Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance provides to women about talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

The most recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2020 found no statistically significant link between powder use and ovarian cancer risk.

talcum powder and ovarian cancer

Previous studies, including a 2014 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that using perineal powder was not associated with a risk of ovarian cancer, compared to never having used it (read the full study in Journal of the National Cancer Institute). Earlier studies, however, had suggested that there is a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. 

This commentary, also in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, provides additional insight into why it’s so difficult to accurately assess the relationship between talc use and ovarian cancer.

“In highly publicized cases, we must be careful as a women’s health organization to let science guide our reactions. The fact remains that the science is inconclusive about increased risk of ovarian cancer to women using talcum powder,” said Audra Moran, President and CEO of Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.

This story in SELF magazine (January 2019) provides an easy-to-understand review around this topic.